This sermon is for Sunday, August 18, at the 11 a.m. Blandford UMC worship service on I Samuel 17:1-10.
I have a very jaded view of war, thanks to the various war movies I’ve seen and the way that we’re fed stories from the warfront by various news sites. But I’ve never actually been in a war; I’ve never even been in a truly violent fight. Honestly, the closest thing I ever came to a fight was when another high school freshman pushed me in anger against a door. But the door was open, and I fell on a couch, and the other kid fell onto my legs… and I started laughing. The subsequent punches he threw were pretty weak, so I blocked them, and …kept laughing, until an administrator broke it up. (See, I can’t even really get into a fight.)
But one of the most well-worn stories of the Old Testament is a story about war. It’s the story of David and Goliath, and quite a few people know how it ends. But how it started, and how a teenager ended up changing the course of a war, well, that’s pretty remarkable.
See, the Philistines were a wild people. I imagine the Vikings led by Genghis Khan or something like that. Violent, uncivilized, and intimidating, they had taken up position in Israel with every intent to burn Israel to the ground and take what they wanted. So they were camped out on one hill overlooking a valley, and the Israelites were encamped on the other.
For forty days, this nine-foot Philistine would come to the edge of his hill, and yell to the Israelites on the other side. He would call them names, challenge their manhood, and dare one of them to come and fight him. In those days, representative combat was often the way that a war was settled: the champion of one nation would fight the champion of the other nation, and the winning side won the war. It was understood that the gods of each army were actually debating the winning side and they actually determined the winner themselves, not the puny humans below.
I guess it saved on effort and bloodshed, and meant only one guy was really going to have to lose instead of thousands. But with the Philistines, it was more of a taunting thing, a bullying, rub-salt-in-the-wound kind of thing that was intended to instill fear before the onslaught of the battle began.
And this Philistine, mighty Goliath, was having his way with the Israelites. The Israelite King Saul, the one God deposed for the anointing of David, didn’t actually believe that Yahweh God was strong enough to win. And his men were taking pointers from their leader: for forty days it says that they were full of fear and terror. Saul is trying to hire one of them to go throw themselves at Goliath, and he can’t find anyone who’ll take his bribes.
But sometimes you need someone with fresh eyes to show up and assess a situation. And on the fortieth day, the shepherd boy David arrived with lunch for his brothers, and snooped around to hear what all of the fuss was about.
Here’s little, last son David, who we saw get anointed as the next king of Israel at the early service, show up to see his big, bad soldier brothers. And he finds that all of them are shaking like leaves with their knees knocking together. So, little David (remember, he’s not really King David yet), in his teenage bravado shines the light of God into the situation: “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go fight him.”
Wait a minute. The best, boldest, strongest soldiers of the Israelite army won’t even consider speaking back to Goliath, and this scrawny kid is going to go out to fight him? That’s the same reaction that Wart AKA Arthur gets when he pulls the sword out of the anvil in the church courtyard at the end of The Sword in the Stone; no one believes that this puny, little kid could do something no strong, meatheaded man could do (which could be so many sermon illustrations). It’s not even a question of reality for these guys, it’s just common sense that David can’t do this.
King Saul doesn’t even think twice about this. He’s convinced David has no chance because he’s merely a boy. He’s trying to do David a favor really, to keep him from getting killed. But David will have none of it.
“Look, King Saul, I’ve already killed a lion and a bear. They came for my sheep, and I struck them down. This Philistine is no match for me.”
Maybe it’s desperation; maybe it’s the gleam in David’s eye. Saul relents and has David dressed in his finest Israelite armor, shiny and gleaming, with full protection from head to toe. And David can’t move! The armor is just too heavy, and David is just to small. Sure, he could take beating after beating from an attacker, but he’d never be able to fight back.
So David tells them to take off the armor, and instead he goes down to a stream and picks out five smooth stones. I wonder sometimes what was going through his mind when he knelt by the stream. Was David praying? Humming the Israelite version of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” or Queen’s “We Will Rock You?” Was he thinking about marrying Saul’s daughter, the crown jewel in the reward that the king was offering?
David is in the fifteen to seventeen-year-old mix here. It’s impossible to know what he was thinking!
But he takes those stones, and his sling, and he walks out into the middle of the valley to meet Goliath. If this is a Michael Bay movie, we’ve moved past the calm to the storm. The skies are darkening, the drum beat has grown louder and more violent, and it’s probably raining. (If it’s a John Woo movie, the doves are about to fly.)
David is walking in the wrong direction, if what everyone else is doing is right. He’s facing fear and danger and violence. He’s walking into the belly of the beast, rattling the cage, and staring several flights up at a colossal giant of a man.
It says that Goliath looked down at David and saw that he was just a kid, and that he despised him. Think about the situations where you might despise someone, where you think that you are better than they are. I think those are dangerous moments, when we think that we’re so far above another person that we see them as worthless. It’s usually the moment in the movie where the villain begins to overcompensate for his own pride, where he talks like Goldfinger to James Bond about his plan to rule the world and gives away his secrets, where we first get the inkling that the underdog might win…
And David stands there, taking the full force of Goliath’s taunts, and in his seventeen-year-old fury says, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord God Almighty who you’ve defiled.”
In the history of brave battlefield speeches, I put it in my top three.
In Braveheart, William Wallace tells his assembled farmers preparing for the culmination of the war (and movie): “Fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!”
Pretty inspiring, right?
In Independence Day, President Whitmore channels Winston Churchill and Dylan Thomas as his ragtag pilots prepare to take on the alien fleet: “In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world, and you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. Mankind, that word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences any more. We will be united in our common interest. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the 4th of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom. Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution, but from annihilation. We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist and should we win the day, the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice, ‘We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on, we’re going to survive.’ Today we celebrate our independence day!” But I digress…
David has issued the challenge, he’s named who he is fighting for, and he has taken Goliath’s best verbal challenge. And when Goliath runs at David to engage him physically in battle, David puts one of his five, smooth stones into the sling, and lets fly.
And the mighty, bullying, vicious, violent champion of the Philistines falls down dead. And David cuts off his head as a trophy, as the Philistine army scatters for the hills.
Pretty cool, right?
David, the shepherd boy. David, the secretly anointed. David, the lunchpail carrier. David, the too small, too weak, too young, too inexperienced, too not-a-soldier-ish.
David the conqueror.
I wonder what it would look like this week if you approached the situations that threaten to beat you down, and boldly told them, “you come against me with depression, anxiety, pay cuts, unfair laws, bullying, abuse, verbal putdowns, and everything you’ve got. But I come at you in the name of the Lord God Almighty who you have ridiculed, ignored, and forgotten.”
In Romans 8:37, Paul wrote, “we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.”
David stood up to adversity, he took one for the team of believers who were shaky at best, and God made his aim straight, and true, and effective.
Do we have that kind of bold faith, to walk out onto the battlefield of our lives and claim the victory in the name of Jesus? Doesn’t it have to start with our attitudes and work its way out? Can we recognize that if we want our world to change, that we have to see the ways we need to change to be more like Jesus and recognize that God wants to use us as his “champions”?
I hope that you will recognize that there are battles worth fighting, and that you will fight them in the name of the one true God. I hope that you will pray that God will give you the strength to move when others are afraid and petrified, that God will use you to be a mighty force for stomping fear and setting people free.
May your aim be straight and true.